Story and photos by Donna Iverson
As a community gardener, I am all about growing food, community ties, sustainable practices, and getting my hands in the dirt ..err soil.
Quiet and reserved by nature, I nevertheless thrill when one of my plants makes a spectacular appearance in the garden bed.
Last summer, my giant sunflowers towered over the vegetable beds and could be seen from a block away. Swaying in the breeze, their yellow disk flowers caught the eye of anyone who was tending garden beds or even just walking by.
Look at us, they seem to shout silently..aren't we beautiful? And we are useful too..our seeds and petals provide food for butterflies and bees who love us. ...as do birds and people, who harvest the seeds in the fall for a healthy treat.
However, visiting the garden toward the end of the summer, I was shocked to see the sunflowers had disappeared. Something had cut them down mid-stalk. I'm guessing either the little rabbit I spied hopping out from behind a neighbors bushes one day or a woodchuck, who had dug a tunnel under one of the beds.
Figuring that sunflowers were probably doomed and not a reliable showpiece in the face of these predatory hungry mammals, I decided this summer to plant something almost equally showy and eye-catching. I chose Scarlet Runner Bean. By August it had overgrown its bamboo stakes and was flashing showy red pea-like flowers. Other gardeners were commenting and admiring its beauty.
So far, mammals have left it alone and it has attracted pollinators and is a favorite of hummingbirds. A native of Central America, Scarlet Runner Bean was introduced in the 1600s to the colonists by Native Americans. In colonial America it was grown as a food plant, with beans appearing late in the growing season. President Thomas Jefferson was reportedly fond of this heirloom plant and grew it at Monticello.
Scarlet Runner Bean is easy to grow, making it a favorite with children, beginning gardeners as well as home owners wanting to make a floral statement. It can reach 10 feet in height and therefore needs some kind of support. The perennial plant cannot tolerate frost and its flower die when temperatures reach the 90s.
This ancient bean is edible but must be well cooked to kill off toxins. But even if you don't eat the beans, this native-born plant will make a showy display that will impress your neighbors and friends. It is a plant that likes to show off. ...for gardeners with the same urge.